On the Role of Women in the Church

A transcript of a talk given at St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Orthodox Retreat on 7 September 2009 in Guerneville, CA

The issue of women in the Church has been raised many times during the history of Christianity, beginning with the very first decades of the Church’s existence. That is why, when in the twenty-first century one asks about the role of women in the Church, one does not speak of this role—Christ Himself spoke about it and the Apostle Paul wrote about it in his letters—but the continuing problem of the relationship between genders in the family, society, and the Church. In Church consciousness, this problem is usually expressed in terms of bearded men in black possessing administrative authority which they withhold from women, even if the latter choose to glue on a mustache and don a black robe. From the point of view of modern Western culture—to which not only immigrants making their lives in the United States belong, but also in a significant way Orthodox people living in the European part of Russia—there is clear evidence of the discrimination of the Church against women only because they were born women. This is why it seems somewhat strange to me that I, a bearded man in a black robe who possess some limited administrative authority in my parish—a small part of the Church, have been invited to tell women about their place in the Church.

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The Time of the Battle…

David and Goliath

… the warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the heirarchies of angels and saints. The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of the battle is our whole life.

These words, written by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain in the forward to his rendering of Unseen Warfare*, sum up in a graphic way the life of the Christian. Christ himself states in Matthew: “Do not think  that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” That is, the message of Christ does not mean that we can sit back and enjoy peace, rather it is a call to arms.

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«The Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying…»

seraphim«And it came to pass in the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord seated upon a high and lofty throne, and the house became full of his glory. And Seraphim were standing round about; six wings had each one; and with twain they covered their faces, and with twain they covered their feet, and with twain they hovered aloft. And one cried one unto the other and they said: «Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!» And the frame of the door shook from the sound wherewith they cried, and the house was filled with smoke.» (Isaiah 6:1-4)

This vision, perceived by the holy prophet Isaiah, give us a wonderfully vivid description of the throne of God and how those who are before this throne act. The Seraphim, one of the orders of Angels, cover their faces at the sight of the glory of God, humbling themselves before the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. In their modesty they also cover their bodies, knowing that no one, not even they, are worthy to stand in the sight of God. But even so, they also hover before God, eager to be in that presence and to study the might and wisdom of Him. They continually glorify God, calling out to each other and any who will hear that God is holy, God is set apart from every created thing, God is over and above wholly different from anything that has, does, and will exist.

How often do we today act like this? How often do we show the reverence and respect to the Almighty? Instead we speak casually about God, we refer to God incarnate as “JC” or as merely a “friend” whom we have a relationship with. We speak about what God has done for us, how he has helped us, what we hope he will do for us. This is a backwards way of thinking! We should instead be thinking about what we can do for Him, we should talk about His glory, and every sentence we utter about Him should be worshipful. Let us take a cue from the Angels and ceaslessly sing of His glory!